MEDINA – New foreclosure case filings in Medina County have dropped dramatically in the last five years from 1,155 in 2009 to 624 in 2013.

The number of new filings with the Clerk of Courts has declined steadily in recent years and has continued to do so as well this year, with 259 filed in the first six months of 2014.

The reduction in the number of people losing their houses can be attributed partly to an improving economy and partly to extraordinary measures by public officials to stem the alarming tide of foreclosures that followed the collapse of the real estate market in 2008.

Part of the response to the big increase in foreclosures was the creation of the Medina County Foreclosure Prevention Task Force in 2008.

Medina County Commissioner Pat Geissman brought together a group of about two dozen people who represent local government in addition to professionals in real estate, banking and law in an effort to help people on the verge of defaulting on their home mortgages.

“The number of foreclosures is coming down and I think the work of the task force has been making a difference,” Geissman said.

Geissman also credited the efforts of County Auditor Mike Kovack, who assumed much of the task force work by establishing a mortgage counseling and modification program in his office.

He estimates that more than 500 people have come through his office in the last five years for help filling out the complicated applications for loan modifications or direct help with their mortgage payments.

The most successful of those foreclosure prevention efforts was the Save the Dream Ohio program which administered $570 million in federal money allocated to help individuals save their homes from foreclosure.

Kovack said his staff helped 329 Medina County homeowners qualify for more than $9 million of that money in the last three years.

However, Save the Dream funding is expiring and new applications to the program are no longer being accepted. Consequently, Kovack expects the numbers of people coming to his office for mortgage counseling to also drop off.

The declining foreclosure rate and available funding assistance has prompted members of the county Foreclosure Prevention Task Force to also wind down their efforts. During a meeting July 16, members agreed that they would not meet again regularly, but would reconvene in a year to reassess the situation.

Although foreclosure numbers have dropped, the problem has not gone away and the 624 new cases filed last year was still far more than the 140 filed with the Clerk of Courts in 1995.

“I want to keep in touch so that all the good work we’ve done isn’t wasted when the Save the Dream program goes away,” said Tim Kozlowski of Community Legal Aid services.

Court Mediator Bruce Francis said there still remains a need for qualified housing counselors to help people behind on their mortgages through the maze of paperwork required when seeking a loan modification from their lender.

Kovack said he would retain a person on his staff for that purpose and continue to keep information about the service posted on his Web site.

Despite the decline in recent years, Ohio still ranks fifth in the country in the rate of foreclosures. In 2013, one of every 65 properties in Ohio was involved in the foreclosure process at one point or another.

It is important that consumers are aware that once the foreclosure process begins, borrowers may still have viable options, including bankruptcy, to prevent the loss of their homes.

For those who are currently facing difficult economic times, whether due to job loss, medical issues, increasing debt, divorce, or other issues, seeking the free advice of a mortgage counselor at the auditor’s office or paying an attorney who has experience in bankruptcy and foreclosure matters may be the first step to prevent or stop foreclosure.

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